“Enough Preaching to the Choir,” Say Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman in New Manifesto
The architect and political theorist presented a call to action at the New Museum’s IdeasCity Conference, demanding a "New Public Imagination."
On September 16, architect Teddy Cruz and political theorist Fonna Forman presented the following manifesto at the New Museum’s IdeasCity conference in New York City. Cruz and Forman are co-founders of the architectural and political practice Estudio Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman, as well as co-directors of UCSD’s Cross-Border Initiative, a research group that focuses on the San Diego-Tijuana border. The views expressed in this article are theirs.
We believe that one of the most important tasks for art and architecture in our time is to visualize the conditions that have produced so much damage to our collective social and environmental resources.
In our practice, the visualization of conflict is a creative tool. The research on American inequality that Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty developed years ago is one of those visualizations: two lines that bend across time and mirror each other; two peaks on both ends and a valley in the middle. The line above these two peaks represent moments of the largest income inequality in American history, both during the great depression at the end of the 1920’s and our own economic crisis in the late 2000’s till now. But what is compelling about this visualization is that the line below these peaks represents moments of the lowest taxation on the wealthy.
For us, this is the visualization of the crisis because this gap exposes the hypocrisy of the American dream as promised by the dominant mythology of trickle-down economics—that if we lower taxes on the wealthy all of us benefit. This gap proves that whole mythology wrong!
But we never talk about the valley in the middle, where those two lines get closer to each other creating decades of more equitable distribution of resources. These are the decades organized around Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and a bill of rights, through which government, civic philanthropy, the private sector, universities, and communities mobilized a cross-sector commitment to invest in the public. These decades produced unprecedented public investment in public infrastructure, public housing. “Public” was not a forbidden word in our political language. This visualization ultimately shows us that inequality is produced by the polarization between private and public interests. During the next years this gap will widen even more, and we will witness unprecedented privatization of our collective resources
So where is our public imagination today? A society that is anti-tax, that is anti-public, that is anti-immigrant, and that invests more in building prisons than schools, commits civic suicide.
As the top-down public is systematically dismantled, what can we do? Let’s imagine a bottom-up public—a set of informal transgressions that counter the imposition of exclusionary political and economic power—from everyday acts of resistance in marginalized communities everywhere, to our own practices on the ground. Let’s design a more stealthful opposition to these anti-public assaults that are descending upon us. What can this bottom-up public look like? We’d like to share our thoughts on the social, political and spatial building blocks of a new bottom-up public.
1. Enough Preaching to the Choir
First of all, enough preaching to the choir! Chances are most of us here agree on basic principles of inclusion and social equity. But how do we engage those who don’t? We need to infiltrate cultures of opposition, understand their logics of justification, and decode today’s frightening social and political reality. We can’t underestimate the depth of opposition in our culture, or be blindsided ever again. We need to retool ourselves.
2. New Social Norms
Let’s cultivate new social and behavioral norms of inclusion and social equity, and shame people who violate them. We need a new citizenship culture that transcends “us versus them,” and is unafraid to condemn what’s morally and ethically wrong. That xenophobia is wrong. That isolationism is wrong. And that building border walls is wrong. Let’s rethink citizenship beyond the nation state and its obsession with division. We come from San Diego-Tijuana, a contested region divided by a wall. We have committed our practice to constructing a cross-border citizenship culture, based on dignity, mutual recognition, and regional interdependence.
3. Demand Accountability
At a time when the left and the right seem to be converging in their mistrust of government, let’s demand accountable public institutions that invest in public goods. The bottom-up is resilient and powerful—but let’s not surrender the top-down and capitulate to the logics of privatization. In our practice, we believe that the top-down and the bottom-up need to meet, to share knowledge and resources, and we need agencies capable of mediating their interface. Let’s not abandon our public rights.
4. Co-Produce the City
The future of the city depends not only on buildings but on the reconfiguration of social and economic relations. Not only private developers should build the city—let’s co-produce the city with the bottom-up. Let’s re-define affordability through the value of social participation. We need to elevate the role of communities in co-producing housing, and share the profits of urbanization
But social justice today cannot be only about the re-distribution of resources; We must also re-distribute knowledge. We need to translate the knowledge of the bottom-up and politically represent it in order to transform exclusionary top-down policy.
5. Challenge Stupid Zoning
Zoning has to stop being punitive, preventing socialization. Zoning needs to be a generative tool to reorganize activity and economy at community scales. Because the city has to be more than a zone of consumption. It must become again a site of social, economic and cultural productivity.
6. Socialize Density
Urban Density can no longer be measured as an abstract amount of buildings per area but as an amount of social and economic exchanges per area. The small social and economic adaptations of bottom-up urbanization will transform the largeness of selfish sprawl into more sustainable, plural, and complex environments.
7. Democratize Access
The most emblematic image during the Civil Rights movement is when Rosa Parks sat where she did not belong. Even though the bus was public, it was inaccessible to many. Today we need to move from our abstract and selfish idea of democracy as the right to be left alone to the specificity of urban rights where democracy is performed in coexistence with others.
8. Public Space that Educates
For us, all these elements converge in the urgency to transform public space. Let’s reject conventional strategies of urban beautification and innovation that turn our public spaces into sites of leisure and consumption. We question the agendas of the creative class and their pop-ups. Too often they accelerate gentrification, cynically appropriate arts and culture for private ends, commodify multiculturalism, and become an apology for the absence of more substantial public investment in the city. No. Public space must be a site of debate and contestation, and infused with resources and tools that increase public knowledge and cultivate community capacity for political action.
9. Transgress Borders (a subject close to our hearts)
Borders are porous: they cannot contain many informal flows—environmental and water flows, economic flows, cultural, ethical, and aspirational flows. In this time of global closure, let’s amplify what walls cannot contain, and demand public recognition of the many interdependencies and possible futures in border zones like ours. Borders are amazing laboratories for cultural and artistic experimentation. Let’s intervene there, from the bottom up. And lets demand a new political leadership motivated by equity, human dignity and cross-border cooperation.
And in the end, let’s not ever become complicit with political injustice by helping to decorate or camouflage the border wall. Beautifying the wall only legitimizes it, naturalizes it, and postpones a change in our public vision. Let the wall be the hideous steel fence that it is, and let’s resist it and find creative ways to transgress it until enough of us exert our democratic counter-power to dismantle the politics of fear that produced it.
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